Snow Leopard
Sat 1 Nov 2008 00:00



We didn’t expect much wind for the trip down to Lisbon, and that was the case all day, mostly motor-sailing in light wind, until the evening when the northerly increase and we sailed a dead run right through the night. We chose to head offshore as the coast was inundated with lobster pots and the chances of not tangling with on in the night were poor. This course did take us across the busy shipping lanes twice, but it was a clear moonlit night and with the aid of AIS and radar I would rather see my problems. One vessel approaching from behind was identified as a sailing vessel ‘Mercedes’. The AIS stated she was 35m long and only 8m beam, a very large and strange ship. She finally crossed about 600 metres behind us and I shone our lamp her way to see if I could see her, with no avail. Suddenly the ship lit up revealing a beautiful two-masted tall ship glowing in the dark, looking like the ghost-ship Marie Celeste. I called them on the radio and thanked them for the impromptu display. ‘You’re welcome’ came the reply. I looked up details of ‘Mercedes’ later and she is a new Dutch ship built in 2005.


We arrived at Cascais at lunchtime and checked into the marina. At first they wanted to charge us €160 per night, but after some remonstration they agreed that they had made a mistake and reduced to a still-expensive €60, even after the ARC discount. Consequently we stayed just one night and moved on to Oeiras, a new marina about 5 miles further towards Lisbon. We spent a pleasant few days there before returning to Cascais on the 1st October when the marina slashed their rates to a reasonable fee.


The reason we returned to Cascais was that nice though the marina was there was nothing else in Oeiras, whereas Cascais is a very pleasant seaside resort with good shopping and restaurants. Lionel Willis, an old colleague of mine from the National Maritime Museum was flying out to help us sail to the Canaries and Jill, his wife came for a few days in Lisbon before we set sail.


Lionel knew Lisbon quite well and we had a great couple of days exploring Lisbon. We have never been there before and found it a really delightful city. On the first day we had great fun jumping on and off old wooden trams that scuttle around the city. Lunch was in an old convent converted to a brewery (!) with the most beautiful tiled wall pictures. Tea was at an old tea house with wonderful cakes. You can see that food is dear to Lionel’s heart!




Lisbon tram




Tram somehow fitting through narrow streets. Not even room for a pedestrian!




The ex-convent /brewery




Stout lassies



Lionel and Jill on the funicular – yet another mode of transport


Street sign in Lisbon


Lionel had to try it





More tile paintings on a house in Lisbon. We guessed scenes from the life of St. Anthony


Next day was back to Lisbon, but to the Belem quarter for a cultural morning (after coffee and cakes of course). Lucy and I went to the very good maritime museum, Jill to the archaeological museum and Lionel to the carriage museum. To help us recover lunch was on the veranda of an art gallery overlooking the river.


For Jill’s last day we hired a car and drove to Sintra, where the royal family had their summer palaces. If you ever go to Portugal don’t miss Sintra, especially the completely bizarre palace of Pena built by King Don Fernando II, He was obviously mad and had a wonderful time building this fantastic, ridiculous palace with every possible architectural style all thrown into the mix, and then paint it pink and yellow!










See what I mean?



We dropped Jill at the airport and later picked up Martin Akery who also came out for a few days’ sailing and to get used to the boat as he is crossing the Atlantic with us.


We set of next morning (6th October) towards Gran Canaria. Initially the wind was light from the south-west, but with a promise of veering to stronger northerlies. 24 hours on and the wind had increased to 12 knots, but only gone west. Slowly in veered further and increased, but by the time it finally turned north and freshened to 22 knots it was the morning of the 8th October and we were 300 miles down the track, except we were heading for Madiera, so we decided to go there instead! The trip from Cascais was 485 miles and took just over 60 hours, averaging 8 knots!


I’m very glad we did, for Madeira was a revelation. It is a beautiful, lush island, and far more affluent than I had imagined, even on the rural north coast. We went to the new marina at Quinto do Lorde. It was jammed full, so they asked us to wait outside for half an hour whilst they moved boats all over the place to make room for us. After a temporary stay on the fuel dock we were place between two superyachts. They obviously recognised the superior quality of ‘Snow Leopard’.



Our neighbours in Madeira



We hired a car for the day to see some of the island. They have built a new motorway along the south coast and the locals, having been freed from the tortuous, hilly twisting roads, now all sped like budding formula 1 drivers – unfortunately without the skill.


Funchal, the main town is nothing special, but to the east past the fishing village of Camara de Lobos (with a stunningly beautiful fishermans’ chapel) are the cliffs of Cabao Girao, which claim to be the second highest in the world. Having looked down from the top (about 680metres) I don’t doubt their claim and have no wish to stand at the top of whatever the highest cliffs are!


View from Cabo Girao




The boat in the centre is an 80ft cat!



Camara do Lobos



Lionel and Lucy posing for the Cotton Traders mail-order catalogue


You can see why Martin (in background) doesn’t qualify!







Interior of fishermans chapel, Camara do Lobos


Martin had booked a flight back to England from Gran Canaria. Fortunately Easy Jet have a great ticket change policy which allowed him to fly from Madeira instead. So we packed him off at the airport and decided to keep the hire car for another day to explore the remainder of the island. What a fascinating place it is. The north is lush with groves of bananas and real rainforest flora, the south is drier with vines growing on terraces built on precipitous cliffs. With the exception of the previously mentioned motorway, the roads twist and turn along valley sides and high cliffs. Definitely not a drive for the feint hearted, especially when going up to the central plateau at some 1600 metres, through thick cloud and rain (sunny on the south side!). The plateau on the top is a flat desolate moor not unlike Dartmoor and just as wet and windy!


Wet and wild north coat of Madeira


Another page from the Cotton Traders catalogue!


Food for thought! That’ll be a fish restaurant then?


One harbour we will not be visiting


We set of on the afternoon of the 12th October to cover the final 250 miles to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. Again there was little breeze but we had plenty to entertain us. First a whale blowing off to starboard, then as we motored toward the last sighting of the whale a couple of huge dolphin decided to put on their own show of acrobatics, including back flips and high jumps.


About 12 hours after leaving Madeira the wind got up to 11 knots, which enabled us to sail at 9 knots with the Code 0 set. ‘Snow Leopard’ is so easily driven that it takes so little wind to get her going at great cruising speeds.


Next day we passed between the Islas Salvagem, which lie halfway between Madeira and the Canaries, i.e. in the middle of nowhere. They are a nature reserve and the only inhabitants and the reserve wardens. Now there really is a job for those who want to quit the rat race! Nothing there but sea birds, oh and a few wrecks including a French supertanker!


Gran Isla Salvagem


We finally arrived at Las Palmas at 4am, and tied to the reception pontoon for a few hours blissful sleep.

Next day we were allocated a berth on the big-yacht quay (our class recognised again), and far away from the hoi ploi.


Lionel had a couple of day before his flight so we set of to explore Gran Canaria. The south is a desert, with awful tourist development all along the coast. However when you strike inland they soon disappear and you drive through a luna landscape, ever going upwards. When you reach the summit it’s all change. Here there is cloud and moisture and descending to the north coast one could be forgiven for thinking that you had transferred back to Madeira.


Las Palmas is the eighth largest city in Spain and non too attractive. Nor is the vast marina, but this is home for the next month so we’ll enjoy it. At least it’s warm!


Gran Canaria interior


This is a major road, according to our map


Approaching the summit, and clouds!


Houses built into caves, towards the highest point on the island. Yes it’s raining


Over the top and descending towards Las Palmas